Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Royal Academy of Music @ Kings Place, London

28 June 2014

RAM As the main concert halls begin to empty for the summer, their stages provide windows of opportunities for young up-and-coming performers, both to showcase their talents and to give audiences a preview of tomorrow’s professional musicians.

Hall One at Kings Place was given over to students from the Royal Academy of Music in a well-designed programme of music from the first half of the twentieth century. The seven pieces from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos arranged for two pianos are fiendishly difficult to play, despite the apparent simplicity of the two dance movements (Bulgarian Rhythm and New Hungarian Folk Song). Soloists Florian Mitrea and Alexandra Vaduva had no difficulty in mastering the most demanding passages, including the brilliantly constructed Chromatic Invention, in which the music is heard simultaneously, with one part written as the exact inversion of the other. However, although these two young players acquitted themselves brilliantly as soloists, their concentration on getting the music right sometimes came at the expense of a genuine sense of partnership.

This same wariness affected a slightly uptight performance of Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion. The piano parts were again taken by Mitrea and Vaduva, with Tom Lee and Paul Stoneman operating a battery of percussion, dominated mostly in the scoring by timpani, snare drum and xylophone. The skill and technique of these musicians – clearly well trained and already experienced on concert platforms – could not be faulted. But an over-concentration on perfection rendered their interpretation a little too edgy. Given that Lee and Stoneman sometimes had to rush to or stretch over several instruments in in order to play them, that was probably not very surprising. The tension eased off somewhat in the beautiful central Lento, with its echoes of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, composed just two years earlier, in 1936.

The septet assembled for Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale seemed to have much more fun. Although the music written to accompany this narration about a battle of wits between a soldier on leave and the devil is not Stravinsky’s finest, it did, in 1918, mark the beginning of his exploration of popular music, including ragtime and dance hall tunes. The ensemble was fortunate in having a first rate narrator. Harriet Walter injected drama, tension and real pathos into the spoken part. She was also musically savvy enough to know how to pace the words with the music, and she demonstrated a strong working relationship with conductor Simon Wright, who directed the ensemble. Top marks too to Leonie Bluett on an alternatively silky and raucous clarinet, and to Kate Suthers, who handled the important violin part with real skill and expression.

Further details of Kings Place concerts can be found at kingsplace.co.uk

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